If it hasn’t been obvious, life in Morocco has been somewhat worrisome lately. I’ve had a few days where I thought to myself that vacation in America couldn’t get here soon enough and a few other days where the idea of going home to America scared me to death, too. Some worries I’ve shared. Others I’ve kept to myself. But one strange thing about our lives here, although maybe this is true everywhere – I’m not sure – is that worries can flip flop to joys in a matter of minutes (or vice versa). The roller coaster can go straight up or straight down, depending on the day.
Last night, along with my friend Katy Howell-Burke, I submitted an almost 20-page Peace Corps Partnership Program Grant to the powers that be requesting $2000 to purchase 120 glasses for Moroccan youth. That’s right, the “glasses project” that was once dead has been revived overnight because of a Moroccan association that was willing to partner with Katy to help us waive the customs tax. And if approved, you, dear reader, will have an opportunity to contribute. For only $15, you can purchase a pair of glasses to put one heck of a smile on some thirteen year-old’s face. That is, rather than requesting government money through a US AID grant, the Peace Corps Partnership Program partners with friends and family of volunteers. I look forward to sharing more about this on the blog if the grant is approved. But that, my friends, is incredibly exciting news! I chatted yesterday with Owen, of Eyejusters, the glasses organization we are partnering with out of Oxford, and if all goes well, he may just fly to Morocco and even bring the glasses with him. And not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but this project will pave the road to potentially bringing thousands more glasses into the country later on. Incha-Allah.
That, of course, puts the “diabetes project” on hold. At least until after I return from America. Rumor is, Peace Corps is out of grant funding for that kind of project anyway. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s insane if all grant monies are already used up, and it’s only December (the funding year began in September). Because of the budget crisis and whatnot, a lot of cuts hit Peace Corps and other foreign aid programs. Which makes no sense, seeing how most Americans believe that foreign aid accounts for about 30% of the budget and, for that reason, want to see foreign aid slashed to only account for about 15% of the budget. When in reality, foreign aid accounts for less than 1% of the U.S. budget. So, if you come across people who complain that America spends too much money on foreign aid, tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about, please. I implore you.
Anyhow, with the glasses project back on my platter and the grant now submitted, the biggest worry I’ve been dealing with was a little matter relating to getting evicted from my beautiful house, Dar Yanayr dyal Fouad. I was given until January 31st to move out.
About a twenty-minute walk outside of town (and maybe a thirty- to forty-minute walk from where I work) is a giant olive orchard (the “zitoun,” which I’ve mentioned elsewhere) about seven to eight times the size of my village. Because the orchard grows along the riverbed, and very, very old aqueducts irrigate the fields nearby, it’s an incredible patch of green in an otherwise relatively brown, arid plateau. I set my sights to moving there, thinking it would give me a more realistic “Peace Corps experience,” as opposed to my current situation, which I’ve termed “Posh Corps,” where I have lovely amenities, such as… well, water and electricity and internet. Actually, I may yet have all of those things living out in the l-blaad (countryside), but life in the countryside is drastically different from life in the city. It’s more hospitable and kind. Invitations for tea are regular. People smile and greet you constantly. A simplicity to life makes it seem, well, more like what you’d expect out of Africa. And let’s be honest: when you hear the words “Peace Corps Volunteers,” do you really picture someone living in an apartment in the city? It’s not what I signed up for. I signed up to rough it.
This morning, I went with another volunteer, Nicole Abrams, and her counterpart, Hassan Achou. This has been a huge stressor, because it took almost two weeks to find a house when I first arrived a year ago. That’s just not something you want to have to navigate twice. But this time, having a friendly Moroccan along for the ride (who is also Berber and can speak both Darija and Tamizigh) gave me a little more hope. As we walked into the orchard, people were knocking the olives out of the trees and onto tarps below. It’s harvesting season, and in just a few weeks, there’ll be new olive oil everywhere. And this part of the country is known for its olive oil, so that’s something to write home about.
Avery and I had a failed attempt a few days ago to find a house in the orchard, so I went into this a little wary. We had talked with a guy at the masra (olive press) who said there were no houses there. This time, as we passed by the masra, a nice couple came by on a donkey cart greeting us. We asked them if they knew of any empty houses, and they said no but that they would ask. As we kept walking, we trailed them by about twenty feet, and everyone they greeted, they kept saying, “Do you know of a house? The foreigners are looking for a house here.” Our mission had become theirs. Within minutes, they had found a beautiful concrete house that’s brand new and sits in the middle of a mud-brick douar (village). In fact, the house is next to an old mud-brick mosque, the oldest part of my site, which may date back hundreds of years.
The house itself isn’t finished. But in a month’s time, it should be looking grand. The roof is twice the size of mine and has a view of the mosque and of the orchard itself. There is a large salon and a small kitchen. Two other rooms and a garage. It couldn’t be more ideal.
I started out saying that life here can be a roller coaster. So I’m not naïve enough to think that there’ll be no problems with this house. But the point is this: there are places readily available in the orchard, and we even had tea with my new neighbors (who also happen to be the same people I met my first week in site when they had a baby naming ceremony, a sbora). They might be nicer than anyone I’ve met in Morocco.
Worries, to be sure, are a regular part of life. In fact, sometimes, they’re so regular, they can overcome us. But maybe what we actually need is to let worry overcome us so much… that we no longer worry about worrying. Fatalism can pave the path to happiness. My girlfriend, Liz, was saying last night how whenever she rides in a taxi and isn’t wearing a seatbeat (because there just aren’t any), she worries for her life as she pictures herself flying through the window in some awful crash. When she told me that, I responded, “That’s exactly why people here are so unbelievably happy. Because if that happens, it happens, but no one is going to actively worry that it could. To them, that would be absolutely absurd.”
In America, we have very little to worry about in reality. Most of us have not only everything we need but everything we should ever want, too. The things we worry ourselves over – our “First World problems” – are usually ridiculous. Will I make this appointment on time? Will I be able to afford that new gadget? Will gas prices go up again? Even the bigger things we worry about in America – like finding or keeping a job, being able to provide a college education, forming a retirement plan, etc. – seem like miniscule worries when you compare them to life here.
But Moroccans are a happy people. But it’s not because their lives are simple. Their lives can be far more difficult than you or I could imagine. You’d think they’d be worried all the time if they worried the way we do in America. But life is life. Sometimes, there’s no stopping the bad things that happen from happening. Sometimes, you lose a kid. Sometimes, you lose a tooth or an arm or a leg. When your way of life is difficult and things only improve little-by-little, there’s an acceptance that comes with the fatalism, and it’s not nearly as cynical as it sounds.
If you know up front that life is a “bumpy cart ride,” you’ll get on your donkey cart a little more prepared for life to be, well, what it actually is, rather than spending your days fighting it, trying to tame it foolishly, only to have life slap you back down to reality again. That’s no reason not to try to repair the bumps in the road when we have the means to do so. But worrying all the time about the inevitable, or even the possible? Devoting so much energy to pretending you can escape the great truth that we’re all on the same path that ends in death, one way or another?
Life in Morocco has, indeed, been somewhat worrisome lately, but then again, life is always worrisome if you choose to worry. Maybe it’s time to accept, instead, that life is life, that many times, things work out, and that even when they don’t, life will move on to the next drama, whatever it may be, where again, things will either work out. Or they won’t. But whether they do or don’t, it’s the worrying that holds us back from a happiness that’s always within reach. I don’t know what these next few months, what this next year, will hold for me. But that’s okay. No sense in worrying about it.